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Cruise Control

I do get it. Honestly, I do. I understand why people are so apathetic about what’s going on around them. We are under assault from every direction; from employers who marginalize their workforce and send jobs overseas, or eliminate them altogether for the sake of the bottom line to bankers who want every penny we own and will find ways of taking them from us, using credit cards and mortgages as tools.

Life is indeed a bitch, and getting bitchier by the day. What news we get is usually bad as unemployment rises, war rages and murder and mayhem rule the streets. Even our kids are not only targets of predators they’ve become predators themselves, shooting up their schools or beating up and bullying their classmates.

It’s easy to put yourself on cruise control and find ways to numb yourself out. You don’t have to think about the unpleasant things that way. Watching TV, surfing the Internet, playing games on Wii, texting your friends…these things are nice and certainly necessary to keeping our sanity but in the end they are distractions which is what they were meant to be all along.

The Romans provided their citizens with bread and circuses to keep the mob happy and docile; without those distractions they might have realized that their government was totally corrupt and the divide between the haves and have-nots was widening and the haves were few in number. Hmmm, does that sound familiar?

Governments live in perpetual fear that their citizens will find out what they’re up to and get REALLY steamed. Nearly every civilized country as had some kind of uprising in which the sitting government was overthrown by an angry mob, often with the most egregious and visible members of the government being shortened by a head as a result.

Revolutions are a lot harder to undertake these days, with electronic surveillance, satellite imaging and the ability for law enforcement to essentially suspend the constitution by naming anyone who disagrees with government policy a terrorist (not that it’s happened here, but the potential is there). However, a revolution even in an industrialized country isn’t beyond the realm of possibility if the citizens got angry enough and if the armed forces that are mostly made up of the working class chose to support them. The sheer numbers are not in favor of the very rich and powerful.

What is in favor of the rich and powerful are a couple of things – fear and apathy. People are scared to lose what they have, as little as it may be. However, apathy can be far more powerful; allow people a certain amount of comforts and they’re pretty much satisfied as long as the Internet is up and the TV still works. If the media makes the issues of the day so confusing and difficult to keep tabs on, so much the better; people will tend to ignore things that they don’t understand.

In general, the average citizen of most countries is woefully ignorant of current events. I would be surprised if one person in ten could name their local, state and federal representatives. Fewer still are aware of the voting records of those representatives. Chances are once an election with all its soundbite rhetoric is over most people become blissfully unaware of what their elected officials are doing, or the ramifications of their actions. We only hear the big button-pushing phrases; “raise taxes,” “abortion,” “gay marriage” and whatever else is making the rounds on the talk shows. What our officials actually do about even these issues generally passes unnoticed. However, people are generally very aware when a congressman, MP or representative gets caught with their hand (or penis) in the cookie jar. People are even more aware when an actor, pop star or celebrity gets into trouble. Murder cases and sex scandals also grab our attention.

The news media plays into that. The old “if it bleeds, it leads” adage was never more true than it is today. The media has always had a vested interest in selling advertising, but the bottom line is way more important now. Newspapers and broadcast stations are owned by large corporations now rather than men like William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer. Their allegiance is more to the bottom line than it is to keeping the public informed. The days of the media acting as a watchdog are essentially over; that function has been taken over by Internet blogs and political sites.

It’s not impossible to stay informed and there are plenty of places to find out what’s happening in the world on the Internet. The trouble with that is that a very high percentage of the information on the Internet is bogus; while there are libel laws that can be enforced, quite frankly there is literally no way to police the truth about what is published here. Internet journalism isn’t held to the same standards that print and broadcast journalism is held to; bloggers and internet journalists will report rumor and/or opinion as fact. That’s why you’ll hear people spouting the most ridiculous drivel and cry “I read it on the Internet.” Even respected news agencies have picked up information from the Internet that turned out to be without basis.

So take things you read on the Internet with a grain of salt. Most of what you read is either opinion (as it is on this blog) or blathering (which it often is on this blog) or simply someone with an agenda who will say anything to promote it, even if it’s something patently false (not on this blog).

So we operate on cruise control, staring straight ahead while things go on to either side of us and behind us that affect our daily lives but that we are completely unaware of. The mechanisms that caused this economic downturn were painfully evident; industry watchdogs were predicting disaster and chaos years before the meltdown occurred but nobody listened because it was easier not to. Anything having to do with finance is confusing and boring; it’s much easier to watch the latest episode of “The Office” than to watch the news. People are far more aware of what Dwight Schrute is up to than what their political representatives are doing.

I do understand why this is. Believe me, I spend a lot of time doing the same sorts of things and until recently I was just as ignorant about my representatives as everyone else is. However, as things began to fall apart, I began to take an interest. Why weren’t politicians protecting their constituents? Why were things allowed to get so far? Why are our tax dollars being spent to bail out corporations who then give that money to their executives as bonuses? Why are my taxes so high? Why are services being cut back? Why do I know more about the sex life of our politicians than their voting record?

All legitimate questions that I’m still trying to answer. However, taking an interest can be very draining and very frustrating. It takes a lot of time and energy to stay informed; after working hard all day, the last thing I want to do is work more simply to find information about what my congressman is up to. A lot of times, I just retire to my movie websites or turn on the boob tube. It’s so much easier on the psyche.

The problem with cruise control is that sooner or later you run into a traffic jam and then you need to hit the brakes. If you aren’t paying attention, you’re going to crash into something. I’m not advocating that you give up blowing off steam entirely – we’ll have a nation of stressed out zombies having coronaries and aneurisms left and right that way. I’m just saying that rather than spending all your free time doing it that you spend at least a small percentage – say, 10% – keeping track of what your elected officials are up to. We can’t count on the media to keep an eye on them any longer, so we’ll have to do it ourselves.

For my part, I much prefer flirting to fact-finding but both have to get done. The greedy and the power-hungry want us to be uninformed. That way they can continue to erode the constitution and abridge our freedoms. Information is power and the more we have of one, the more we get of the other. It is in our own best self-interest to keep an eye on things and at least have some idea of what’s happening in the world around us, even if it is boring and confusing. That’s the only way we’re going to retain the things we have – and the freedoms we cherish.

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Defending the President

Taking potshots at the president is as American as fast food franchising. Regardless of the party of the Commander-in-Chief, whoever is in office can be assured that those on the opposite side of the aisle are going to find fault with whatever he does, no matter how beneficial it may be. The only exception is in cases of national tragedy, when solidarity is the word of the day – and the politically astute thing to do.

After all, the office of President is fundamentally a political office, although in many ways, it is becoming more and more of a business than an office. Think about it; another way of referring to the president is as the Chief Executive. In every way, the president is the CEO of America, Incorporated.

I am all for criticizing the actions and policies of the president; in fact, it is one of the basic rights of this country, one which separates us from a lot of other countries on this rock where criticism of the person in charge can land you in a very nasty prison cell for a very long time. Here, that kind of thing can get you a talk show on Fox News.

As far as our sitting president is concerned, I am not fully satisfied with the job he’s done. I truly believe that he has compromised too much and tried to win friends on both sides of the aisle. He’s bent over backwards to try to give concessions to the conservatives, who have responded basically by blockading all of the legislation he wants enacted.

The president’s job is not to please the other side of the fence; his job is to get things done, to make the country a better place for its citizens. How he goes about doing that as well as his definition of a better place has more to do with his political philosophy – that’s what we vote on. It’s also what we expect him to act on once he gets elected, and my main criticism of President Obama is that he hasn’t gotten the job done on really anything; yes, some groundbreaking legislation has been passed but the reality is that the healthcare plan he put in is a mishmash of compromise and concession that pleases nobody fully, although it is better than nothing. I didn’t vote for him to give us better than nothing.

Likewise, the economy remains in shambles. His jobs bill has helped but he obviously has a long ways to go; people are still hurting. The economy needs stimulation, and the best way to do that is to promote new technologies. Alternative renewable fuel sources and environmentally friendly products would seem to be the way to go right now; incentive programs for businesses and universities to research and develop these things should be a major priority.

I do like some of the things he has done; I believe ending the combat mission in Iraq is the right thing to do at this time. We have been there long enough and further military presence there seems to me to be non-productive. It is time for the Iraqi government to stand on its own two feet and begin the business of being their own country; not that we shouldn’t render them the assistance they need in terms of resources or manpower to restore their infrastructure, but I think that the Iraqis need to be on their own to develop their nation the way they see fit. It’s like a teenager having their parents looking over their shoulder; they act differently when we’re around than they do on their own.

I also agree that the commercialization of space should be the way to go rather than funneling everything through NASA. NASA should be all about exploration and science; getting business up there will further stimulate the economy and give us new products, new technologies and most importantly, new jobs. I’m hoping within the next quarter century we’ll start seeing significant commercial presence in space, from manufacturing facilities to research and development labs to hotels for tourists.

So I guess it’s fair to say that my opinion of President Obama’s performance so far is mixed at best. However, I must say that my blood boils when I read posts from people talking about him being a Muslim as if that should disqualify him from the presidency. That kind of thing is just American ignorance. Folks, let’s get one thing straight – the people who want to tear this country down are the entire Islamic faith, just a few hotheaded extremists. There are plenty of Muslims on this planet who are believers in peace and prosperity for all. Not everyone who believes in the Koran wants to put women behind veils and party like it’s 999.

There are people who talk about the deficit like it is entirely the doing of Barack Obama. Once again, these are people who apparently slept through the Bush presidency (the second one). George W. Bush had a major surplus when he came into office; when he left we were nearly $6 trillion in debt according to the Office of Management and Budget. Ahhh, some conservative political pundits might say, but in Obama’s first year of office alone the debt soared to $7.5 trillion and is expect to near $10 trillion this year.

Let’s understand a few things about that debt. One of the biggest contributory factors to the debt was the war in Iraq. It was the largest single expenditure that the government was making. Let’s not even get into the spurious reasons that we got into that war in the first place, the phantom WMD and the excuse for Big Oil to raise their prices through the roof; that was a war that Obama opposed and that Bush initiated. That aspect of the debt is all Bush’s, even that which was spent during the Obama presidency. Many of the bail-out programs that also contributed significantly to the debt were initiated by the Bush presidency as well.

Of course, Obama could have acted earlier to stymie both of those hemorrhagic costs, but he didn’t and so spending went through the roof. Now, he has a healthcare system which is due to take effect in 2014 that will be a major expense; however, I put it to you that I’d rather spend money saving lives rather than taking them. I’m kind of funny that way though.

Some people are downright psychotic when it comes to Obama, on both sides of the fence; Obamanauts who think he can do no wrong, and their opposition who think he can do no right. The truth is somewhere in the middle; he has done some good things, some not so good things but in the end I tend to support his viewpoints more than I did Bush’s which I thought were ruinous to the economy and tarnished our image around the world. Can we ever take the moral high ground again after we willfully tortured prisoners from Iraq? That didn’t happen under Obama’s watch, my friends.

There is certainly some who are judging the current President based on the color of his skin. I don’t think disagreeing with President Obama makes you a racist; however, it can also be said that some of those who disagree with the President are racists. In fact, there is no doubt about it; the vitriol of the hatred directed at him indicates to me that these people are the same sorts who in years past would have worn a hood and burned crosses. Maybe some of them still do.

But I wouldn’t tar everyone with that same brush. Some Obama-haters do so because they really think his policies are ruining this country and turning us into a socialist state. Frankly, I think that after years of rampant capitalism to the point of abusiveness, we could use a little socialism to balance out the big business gone wild kind of atmosphere we have now. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the individual citizen who needs protection from the excesses of corporate greed that helped start the economic meltdown in the first place. My problem with Obama is I’m not sure he’s been the protector of the citizen I would like him to be; big business needs to be reined in and regulated since they have proven beyond any doubt that they cannot regulate themselves, and the President hasn’t shown any signs that he’s willing to do that. If he doesn’t, conditions will pretty much continue the way they are indefinitely.

To think that Obama is in some sort of conspiracy to destroy America is absolutely ludicrous and absurd. There is absolutely no evidence of that other than the sorry manufactured factoids that rightist bloggers and pundits have formulated, scare tactics to alarm those who are looking for an excuse to find fault. I wonder if we had elected a white president with the exact same policies would we be hearing the same types of things. Probably to an extent we would – as I said, taking shots at the President is an American tradition, but I bet that there would be no Hitler comparisons on billboards if he were white. That’s just disrespectful, not just to the man but to the office. At least let’s agree that if you don’t like the man, you respect the office and act accordingly.